Background And Evolution Of The Arab Israeli Conflict Politics Essay
To many westerners, the Middle East is a land filled with contradictions beyond comprehension. The region is in constant conflict, pitting ancient traditions against modern solutions, with secularists opposing Islamists, and natives fighting foreigners. It is home to immense wealth but subjected to great poverty. Its lands are the birthplace of modern religion yet home to numerous evil acts. No conflict in the region or on the globe for that matter contains the above traits more predominantly than the Arab-Israeli conflict, which holds the region hostage. The birth of a Jewish state on sacred Arab lands has led nations and terror groups alike to take up the cause of the “Palestinian Problem”. The Islamic Resistance Movement better known as Hamas has become a preeminent player in the conflict, originating in the politically and economically repressed territories occupied by Israel. The appeal of Islam has been a powerful tool in guiding Muslim constituents to take up arms against foreign occupiers and the secularist gate-keepers in bed with the West. Its unique hybrid ideology has been greatly influenced by other Islamist groups but has evolved over time so as the group can deliver its message to several audiences worldwide through its employment of numerous tactics including social welfare, terrorism and politics, evoking responses from the Israeli regime to counter its effect.
Hamas was born of the restricted sovereignty imposed upon the Palestinian people of Gaza, by the Zionist Occupied Government. The Arab-Israeli conflict has its roots in the region’s history and was intensified with the formation of the state of Israel and the displacement of its present inhabitants. While both groups have historical ties to the land going back centuries, it was during WWI that the conflicting claims to Palestine significantly emerge. With the war winding down, the victors would move to divide up the territory of the soon to be defeated Ottoman Empire, by breaking it down into a system of colonial mandates guided by a respective big power patron from the West. This was all detailed in a secret Allied document known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which was exposed by the Bolsheviks after they replaced the Tsar in Russia (Cleveland 2004 pg 158). Appeals to the land were made to British officials, as they would be responsible for the Palestinian Mandate. In an attempt to end the war earlier, a deal was struck between the British high commissioner of Egypt Sir Henry McMahon and Amir of Mecca Sharif Husayn, through a series of letters. McMahon inquired what would convince the prestigious Husayn to lead his network of tribal Arab allies against the Turkish Pasha triumvirate in Istanbul. In a series of letters known as the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence, the Amir agreed to lead a revolt in return for an independent Arab state containing the majority of Arabic speaking lands East of Egypt (Cleveland 2004, pg 160). The sticky issue of the negotiations proved to be the coastal territories. With each side refusing to cede it to the other, they decided to leave it unresolved and to be negotiated after the war was ended. Further complicating the issue was British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s favorable response to the prospect of Jewish settlement in Palestine (Cleveland 2004, pg 162). These conflicting promises would weigh in heavily during the interwar years which were essentially a power struggle between British colonial officials and Israeli and Palestinian nationalists. Although WWII saw a decrease in tensions, the genocide against the Jewish population in Europe during the Holocaust would provide the political pretext for the official formation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The United Nation’s then issued Resolution # 181 calling for the creation of the two states, and #194 guaranteeing the right of return for Palestinian refugees (Cleveland 2004, pg 164). The Zionists accepted the proposal, while the Arabs set a precedent in not doing so.
Israel being surrounded by enemies and constantly threatened with annihilation became a “nation at arms” operating under a siege mentality. The balance of power would shift in their favor after their decisive victory over Arab states in the June War of 1967 but would also create new problems for the Jewish nation. It was after this war that the Palestinian people lost faith in the Arab states and turned instead to nationalist groups such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization which embraced terror tactics (Hoffman 2006, pg 66). The 6 Day War also witnessed the annexation of the U.N. partitioned Arab state, with the inclusion of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. The Arab inhabitants became refugees as the Israeli government disapproved of granting them citizenship and diluting the Jewish identity of Israel (Cleveland 2004, pg 164). Jewish leaders pushed for settlement to break up Arab concentrated segments which would also become a point of controversy. With the subsequent implementation of terror tactics used by Palestinian nationalist groups, Israeli forces adopted measures designed to weaken their ability to conduct operations (Cleveland 2004, pg 366). These repressive tactics included security checkpoints, mass detentions and torture which would fuel the insurgency and polarize both the Arab and Israeli populations.
The policy of subjugating the occupied territories to the will of Israel was also played out in the economic sphere. Israeli officials worked to link the economic well-being of Palestinians to the economy of Israel. Palestinians were ideal laborers for the Israeli economy, accepting salaries lower than Jewish standards but vastly higher than wages found in the occupied territories (Cleveland 2004, pg 354). Israel made no efforts to aid Palestinian economic development however, and instead moved to make them dependent upon Israel for trade commodities (Chehab 2007, pg 34). Disproportionate import taxes made it nearly impossible for Palestinian businesses to compete, while government regulations restricted business operations without a license (Cleveland 2004, pg 356). These economic inefficiencies would be multiplied in the future when blockades were enforced as it removed the possibility of working in Israel while limiting availability of imports and manufactured goods. The worst economic discrimination came in the form of land seizures, which would be used for Jewish settlements (Cleveland 2004, pg 366). These settlements on Arab lands were a major grievance to be denounced by Palestinian nationalist groups.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization became the primary voice of resistance within Palestine after the Arab defeat in the June War, as it took up the mantle of Palestinian statehood. It was comprised of numerous guerilla groups determined to fight the state of Israel but became increasingly dominated by the Fatah movement, led by Yasser Arafat and was based on an ideology of secular Palestinian nationalism (Chehab 2007, pg 27). This broad ideal appealed to all segments of the Palestinian population as it avoided over reaching themes of Pan-Arabism or utopian Marxist goals, which might divide the constituency. They would enjoy initial support as the voice of Palestinian resistance as they refused to recognize Israel and laid claim to Palestine in its entirety (Cleveland 2004, pg 350). However as negotiations in the future became a key role for the PLO, they were forced to abandon certain ideals and instead called for a Palestinian state in occupied territories, and would recognize Israel and drop violence as part of a compromise (Hoffman 2006, pg 242). Such changes in ideology would make room for new groups to emerge, with unaltered ideologies that appeared untainted by Israeli negotiations by conforming to Islamic tradition.
Socially Hamas grew out of the rising tide of Islam in the Middle East, to become the only means of resistance to Western imperialism. The West had been a powerful allure in the Middle East galvanizing some to adopt its methods in hopes of imitating success, while others strived to carry on tradition with Islam guiding the way. Throughout the Middle East in the 1970’s and 80’s, Islamists threw off the chains of colonialism, evidenced by an Islamic Revolution in Iran and the formation of Hezbollah in response to Israel’s invasion of Southern Lebanon (Cleveland 2004, pg 370). Even countries that embraced Western principles of secular governance had Islamist elements within society that threatened the regime’s stability. Egypt fell into this category, and while President Anwar Sadat negotiated peace with Israel at Camp David, Islamic opposition movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood took up the Palestinian cause (Cleveland 2004, pg 377). To them it was against Islamic justice to negotiate peace with Israel while they continued occupying Palestinian territories. The Muslim Brotherhood was an Egyptian Islamist organization which had the most far-reaching impact on the formation of Hamas. The Brotherhood was established in Egypt in the late 1920’s by Hassan al-Bannah while Egypt was experimenting with a Western backed liberal monarchy. The power struggle between King Faud, the liberal Wafd Party and British officials paid little attention to concerns of average Egyptians as disparity grew (Cleveland 2004, pg 196). The Muslim Brotherhood argued that social harmony could be achieved through a society based on Islamic principles, with a community united by its faith. The Brotherhood maintained vast local support through its networks of charitable institutions and held heavy influence in universities in the region. Hamas’ future leadership would originate in these universities and many times were either influenced by the brotherhood or direct participated with it. The group took up the cause of a Palestinian state based on Islam during the Interwar years and their established prestige in Gaza resulted from Egyptian control and influence in the territory.
It was the 1967 War that changed the makeup of the region; control of Gaza transferred to the Israelis and the land became occupied by foreign Zionists. The future leadership of Hamas, particularly Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, a theologian greatly involved in the Palestinian Islamist movements, became the most prominent voice in Gaza. He was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time, living in occupied Gaza City (Chehab 2007,pg 37). Through their network of charitable organizations they began to provide both material and spiritual relief in the oppressed territories. During the mid-nineteen seventies, Yassin set up the Islamic Compound to promote Islamic values in Gaza as a way of resisting repression spiritually. The compound was registered with the Israeli authorities, which believed an Islamic movement in Palestine could weaken support for the dominant secular PLO of the time (Chehab 2007, pg 52). From the start it seems, that Israel had pitted Hamas v Fatah to keep the Palestinian people divided and deprive them of united leadership. Israel aided its formation more through turning a blind eye than through direct aid. Israelis had reason to believe it was not a violent Islamist organization because at that time it was not. Hamas has always used a policy of controlled violence before its fabled birth during the first intifada. Interviews with Yassin exposed the elaborate plan to build a network of support through social institutions first before moving on to goals of instilling resistance ideologies within the minds of average Palestinians. After achieving these two stages they would move on to develop military and then political capabilities before reaching their final benchmark of courting Arab nation allies to aid in their causes (Chehab 2007, pg 42). These were the steps being undertaken when in 1987 an Israeli automobile accident killed Palestinian civilians in Gaza caused a massive uprising against Israel, characterized by demonstrations and protest. This is believed by many to be the “start” of the terror group but when considering its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders’ activities in the preceding years; it seems more likely this was their chosen time to announce their arrival on the scenes.
One year after its arrival on the scene during the First Intifada the group published the Hamas Charter, which through thirty-six articles outlined the whole of the group; its vision, ideology and its overall goals. Its overtones are strongly religious calling Palestine a sacred land with which the influence of Islam must be supreme to ensure social justice and harmony (Gettlemen 2003, pg 207). They see Zionists as an evil group that punishes the entire Palestinian people to advance their goals throughout the region. They blame the group for the numerous conflicts on the global stage and claim the real plan of the Zionist exceeds the West Bank of Jerusalem and in actuality knows no bounds, eventually expanding further to the Nile and Euphrates (Gettlemen 2003, pg 211). They see Israel as a great evil which not only occupies their land, but corrupts the youth through alcohol and drug trades. To defeat such an evil, they will need the aid of Allah in their struggle, as they take up Jihad against the Zionists (Gettlemen 2003, pg 209). Due to the severity of circumstances, Jihad is an individual obligation to all Muslim people, and victory can be attained through education of the masses to the ways of Islam.
The charter makes it apparent that the group is actually a hybrid ideology, mixing nationalist and revolutionary ideals to bring about a Palestinian state after causing Zionism to fail but is defined by its strong religious motivations and justifications. Overall it is best defined as a religious group as it uses Islam as its rallying point and its goal for a future state. It also helps its appeal to the masses of Gaza and throughout occupied Palestine. Hamas needs the support of Arab Palestinians to maintain its struggle against Israel, and uses its popularity in Gaza and the occupied territories as staging platforms to disrupt everyday life in Israel. Terrorist attacks, whether they are suicide bombs or Qassam rockets, are aiming for the goal of making the Palestinian presence felt by the Israeli public (Hoffman 2006, pg 147). Many of their attacks are a message to both the Israeli officials and their constituency. During the Oslo Accords, bombings were sending the message that there would be no peace, and that the true Islamic resistance would not permit Israel’s existence (Hoffman 2006, pg 149). In addition the barrages of rockets on southern Israeli towns are meant to relay the messages to all of Israel that their policy towards occupied territories will not make them safer but more vulnerable (Chehab 2007, pg 70). Despite the blockade Hamas can still smuggle necessary materials to launch attacks and the threat will not go away unaddressed or without valid concessions. Certain acts are deemed not towards Israel itself but towards the international community, similar to attention grabbing schemes of the PLO (Cleveland 2004, pg 264). Its recent attempts to provoke Israel into a siege on Gaza resulted in bombings of civilians, non-combatant infrastructure including clinics, mosques and even a U.N. compound which drew international criticism including from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (NPR Staff 2009). The most obvious but possibly the most important audience being addressed are those of the Arab world. Hamas works to discredit Fatah and the PLO by sabotaging their plans and portraying them as collaborators while declaring themselves not only defenders of Palestine but defenders of Islam and the Middle East against the West (Chehab 2007, pg 55). As Yassin’s plans entailed the struggle would not just be a violent, militant battle against evil but also contain a psychological element of attracting supporters both near and abroad.
In its early phase of establishment, the Islamic Resistance Movement’s (Hamas) main objective was to spread awareness and to distinguish itself from other Palestinian nationalist groups that opposed Israel. On that fateful day in 1987, when a military automobile accident took the lives of Palestinian civilians, the stage was set for a period of protest and instability, especially in the Gaza Strip where the accident had occurred. During this time, leaflets were distributed with these ideals and overall goals along with accusations against the Israeli occupiers and calls for sustained protest. This period was known as the First Intifada, and was typified by stone throwing, tire burning and overarching protests and demonstrations (Cleveland 2004, pg 474). Hamas was the newest group on the scene and was operating in the shadows of the PLO and its official United National Leadership, which organized many of the rebellious activities undertaken during the Intifada. For the first few years of the uprising, Hamas stuck to propaganda through leaflets and pamphlets detailing their unique features and goals, while attempting to stand out by organizing protests and strikes separate from those of the UNL (Hoffman 2006, pg 475).The group also stayed active in the daily lives of Palestinians by setting up charitable organizations to ease the sufferings of the locals. The group’s leadership often originated in refugee camps and in the universities, so they recognized the urgent need and strategic value of supporting health clinics, mosques and educational institutions (Chehab 2007, pg 17). While in the beginning the movement refrained from the use of weapons, the formation of the Izz ad- Din al-Qassam Brigades changed things, as Hamas ventured into a more militant response (Hoffman 2006, pg 148). This was largely unsuccessful in its initial phase due to the superiority of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and their overwhelming military response.
Israeli policy towards opponents, often employ a retributive justice that is frequently disproportionate, which was certainly the case during the First Intifada. The determination of Israel to crush the demonstrations came through the medium of the IDF and strict policies of retaliation against the entire Palestinian population. The use of collective punishment was a disaster for Israel as the military demolished homes of suspected stone throwers, enforced excessive curfews and cut utilities including water and electricity (Hoffman 2006, pg 145). Because the Palestinian boycotts were resulting in economic self-sufficiency, the military uprooted fruit trees and razed farm lands and private gardens, while universities were closed to prevent further recruitment of intellectuals to the cause (Cleveland 2004, pg 472). This did nothing other than alienate the population further and in many cases drove Palestinians to increase the uprising. The use of the military to suppress rioting Palestinian youths would also work against Israel as it affected public opinion in the near and abroad (Cleveland 2004, pg 474). The most damaging policy during the intifada however would be the deportation of Islamic Palestinian activists to Lebanon after an attack on the IDF took the lives of five Israeli soldiers (Hoffman 2006, pg 148). The nuisance which Israel was trying to send away would come back stronger after its exile with new tactics and friends to employ in an ongoing war against Israel.
Israeli-Palestinian relations changed greatly in the aftermath of the First Intifada and the Gulf War, with an emphasis put on dialogue between the two in hopes of reaching a peace accord. Negotiations between Israeli officials and Arafat of the PLO, started with the Madrid Conference and the ground breaking Oslo Peace Accord in 1993. These resulted in Arafat recognizing Israel’s right to exist, with the conditions that a Palestinian State be established in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Cleveland 2004, pg 190). The Palestinian Authority would be set up as the de facto representation of the Palestinian people, with Arafat’s secular PLO would dominate after denouncing terror tactics (Hoffman 2006, pg 150). This posed a threat to Hamas, which had based its goals on an Islamic state in the entire territory of Palestine, as they refused to recognize Israel (Chehab 2007, pg 66). The return of members of Hamas exiled to Lebanon coincided with the implementation of suicide bombings to disrupt the peace accords. Bombing campaigns targeted Israeli civilians in big cities as well as military targets, often checkpoints, and sent a clear message to the negotiating parties, “that there would be no peace” (Hoffman 2006, pg 149). Hamas played off the growing disenchanted population, which saw Arafat as increasingly repressive. Due to increased violence and by Israel’s request, Arafat was forced to crack down and became seen increasingly as a collaborator, with Hamas becoming the home-grown opposition. Arafat’s corruption and policy of patronage kept Palestine in economic decay also aided the collaborator title, while his vast security forces filled the void once held by Israeli troops (Cleveland 2004, pg 508). The use of suicide bombings increased the level of violence and made peace look unattainable, forcing ultra-orthodox Jews to take up the fight from the other side. The Goldstein massacre at the Mosque of Abraham was part of Israeli objection to the accords as well, which reached its pinnacle with the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin for his peace attempts (Cleveland 2004, pg 514). The hornets’ nest stirred up by Hamas made it appear unlikely that peace would last, and had a great affect on Israeli politics, as a bombing campaign commenced in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on the eve of elections. The violence helped propel Nethanyu’s conservative, hard line Likud party to victory, promising further crackdowns on the Palestinian nationalist groups (Hoffman 2006, pg 152). Overall this is one of the biggest areas of Hamas’ success as they disrupted the peace deals, radicalized the opposition and in turn provoked further retaliation by the Israeli regime.
The election of Nethanyu reflects a larger shift in Israeli policy towards the “Palestinian Problem”. In years prior the peace deals revolved around trading land for peace, but the Revisionist Nethanyu disagreed with such notions and campaigned on promises to slow down the peace process and increase settlement activity while providing security (Cleveland 2004 pg 512). It was also at this time, that the conflict took a more religious overtone, as the Likud coalition was one of the most Orthodox in Israeli history (Cleveland 2004,pg 513). The policy towards Hamas was one in which no concessions would be granted and covert attempts taken towards removing their leaders. The practice of targeted assassination became prominent and included a Mossad attempt on Khalid Meshal in Jordan, while increasing the network of Arab informants as eyes on the ground in occupied territories (Chehab 2007, pg 77). Informants were easy to produce for the Israeli regime, through warrantless roundups and the fear induced from a penchant for torture. These policies employed by Nethanyu were ineffective but also contradicted by his signing of the Wye Accords (Cleveland 2004, pg 512). After his removal from office peace talks would continue to falter as Zionist nationalism was on the rise along with increasing Palestinian frustration, resulting in a second intifada.
The Al-Aqsa Intifada began in the midst of Israeli elections, and was caused by Palestinian frustration over increased Israeli occupation and settlement, along with the incompetence of the Arafat led Palestinian Authority. This uprising was sparked by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount, which was perceived as an insult to Islam, in the face of ever expanding land confiscations for settlements and the increasing number of security checkpoints imposed on the occupied territories (Hoffman 2006, pg 152). Despite similarities to the first uprising, with scenes of youngsters throwing rocks at Israeli tanks, this intifada became increasingly militarized. Hamas and other likeminded Islamic groups were rearmed through weapons smuggling and ready to conduct a guerilla operation. They used IED’s and landmines to slow down Israeli advancements, while using suicide bombers against Israeli civilians as well. The blowing up of buses, markets and clubs, were justified as a counter balance towards the non-combatant causalities incurred on the Palestinian people (Hoffman 2006, pg 157). The use of suicide bombers reached its height during Passover in 2002 when a hotel was blown up in Nethanya Israel killing thirty (Hoffman 2006, pg 152). It was also during this time that Hamas began its rocket campaigns into Israeli cities that have became a common place today. The continued violence struck Israeli and exposed their vulnerability, while Arafat’s Fatah branch was forced to copy Hamas or be permanently branded as Israeli collaborators (Chehab 2007, pg 79). Overall Hamas was hoping to increase the cost of occupation while breaking Israeli will to fight, possibly persuading them to leave. Instead, the increase in violence and the paranoia in Israel, gave the Israeli leadership the “green light” to use force to implement the security the public was demanding of them.
Just as the Palestinian groups used a more militarized approach during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, so did Israel. After being elected in 2001 Ariel Sharon, a former soldier took the fight to the insurgents. In response to suicide bombings and the discovery of weapons shipments to Gaza, Sharon authorized the use of helicopter gunships and for the first time air strikes from fighter jets (Hoffman 2006). The use of advanced armored carriers helped the IDF enter occupied territories despite the booby traps laid by resistance groups. Violence escalated in violation of human rights standards as battles took place not only at religious centers but in the densely populated refugee camps as well (Chehab 2007, pg 23). In addition, Israeli officials stepped up the policy of targeted assassinations, which included the founder of Hamas Sheik Yassim and his successor but also the master bomb builder Yahya Ayyash (Hoffman 2006, pg 152). Expanded abductions of resistance officials effectively decapitated the leadership, and with Arafat’s power declining under house arrest the path paved for a younger, more violent generation to assume control. Collective punishment resumed and strict curfews were imposed. In 2002 Israel expanded the operation and reoccupied the West Bank and Gaza, implementing sanctions preventing the inhabitants from leaving (Cleveland 2004, pg 516). While these methods worked in disabling the organizations by either killing or capturing their members, the increased repression against the entire society guaranteed that more would be willing to take up the cause. It was also during the Second Intifada, that Hamas expanded its means to an end by becoming a more diverse threat and branched into politics as well.
For a group known predominantly as a militant organization, their approach towards politics was strategically well planned. They had effectively destroyed the credibility of not only the PLO and Fatah but peace talks with Israel, and set themselves up as defenders of Palestine. Nobody expected Hamas to win any elections however, or even participate for that matter. They boycotted the 2005 Presidential election that saw Mahmoud Abbas replace Yasser Arafat but in 2006 won the majority of the legislative branch under the Change and Reform Party (Chehab 2007, pg 22). The election of Hamas surprised the world, as it was intended to do. Hamas officials acknowledged the secrecy imposed on their supporters who were told not to reveal their vote, while a team of sociologists and theologians from the Islamic University of Gaza hit the streets, staying in contact with the Gaza voters (Chehab 2007, pg 34). Tensions between the Hamas and Fatah resulted in a brief civil war as their respective security forces battled it out, leaving Hamas in control of Gaza and Fatah leading the West Bank. Israel in response came down hard on Hamas by blockading the Gaza Strip. Since the blockade, violence consists of mostly rocket attacks into Israeli along with a rare cross-border raid, aimed at kidnapping Israeli soldiers to be used as bargaining chips (Isseroff 2009). Their policy of controlled violence has in recent years allowed them to implement cease-fires, both long term and short term.
In 2008, with the temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas drawing to an end, Hamas expressed their disdain with prospects of a renewal. Hamas claimed that the ceasefire had been breached on several occasion and had not brought about the demands of Hamas, including a halt to Israeli aggression and a lift of the blockade (Isseroff 2009). When the ceasefire expired there was a rapid increase in the number of rockets fired into Israeli towns near the border. This was seen by many as an attempt to compel Israel into granting concessions however it resulted in the opposite, with Israel launching a three week siege on Gaza. This included not only artillery shelling and aerial bombings but an eventual ground invasion. The aims of the invasion were to take out the smuggling tunnels in Egypt and prevent the further launching of rockets into Israel (Isseroff 2009). Hamas used the attacks to hurt Israel’s perception by posting videos of the assault on the Al-Jazeera network. The siege brought international condemnation including by the U.N. after shells hit a U.N. compound in Gaza (NPR Staff 2009). The invasion stopped short of removing Hamas but was intended to weaken its ability to govern and hopefully remove its base of support (Isseroff 2009). It is yet to be seen how the results of the conflict shall play out as it was one act in a broader conflict. If Hamas’ main goal was to force Israel to reopen the Gaza border they may now have to, as rebuilding the strip would be impossible with the blockade. The question is who will be monitoring the crossings and who will be handling the aid for reconstruction. The biggest opportunity created was the possible rift in Hamas’ leadership. Meshal’s comments about “victory” in Gaza, from his headquarters in Syria could not have been well received from average people in Gaza, who witnessed the assault firsthand. On the other hand the conflict also helped to put Nethanyu back in office with his hard line stance towards Palestinians, and though he speaks of embracing peace, he has yet to mention a Palestinian state.
The Arab-Israeli Conflict is among the major obstacles to seeing a more stable Middle East. It is a dividing conflict which pits Israel and its Western supporters with its moderate, secular Arab leaders who permit the Zionist presence at a price against the fundamental Islamists who see the conflict as part of a more overarching conflict that amounts to a present day crusade against Islam. Hamas has emerged as a key player in the conflict and has played the role of opposition to any form of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas has come a long way in its thirty plus years in existence, starting with humble grass root organizations to employing horrific terror and becoming a political power in the occupied territories. Recent events between Hamas and Israel in Gaza are still unfolding rapidly but with the new leadership in both Israel and America, a second chance has been granted for the possibility of some sort of peace arrangement, yet it is too early to tell what the future holds for the lands of Palestine.
Israeli views on Hamas have changed over time as the initial ideologies and strategies of Hamas have changed. Initially the goal and main objective of Hamas was to spread awareness of the injustice sustained by the citizens of Palestine through non violence. There are many policies and acts portrayed by the people of Israel and the government of Israel which shows why they believe Hamas or the Islamic Resistance Movement is considered to them a terrorist organization. Israeli government’s position regarding Israeli/Palestinian violence over the past few years continues to be based upon Israel’s determination to punish Hamas terrorists who carry out attacks on Israel, and to target for assassination Hamas leaders who advocate and support such attacks. This policy has been controversial, has been condemned as state-sponsored terrorism by many Palestinians, and presents even more dilemmas for the new Israeli government after Hamas was put in power by the people of Palestine and controls the Palestinian government.
Feelings in Israel today regarding whether Palestine should become a nation reflect these complex dilemmas. Many Israelis are supportive of Palestinian statehood based upon limited autonomy, for they recognize the historical reality that Palestinians have lived in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Palestine for centuries. From Israel’s perspective, the fundamental problem has been the refusal of many Palestinians to acknowledge the historical reality that Jews also have a legitimate historical claim to Palestine and have sovereignty rights based upon the existence there of the ancient state of Israel in biblical times.
In an effort to reduce the tensions and violence resulting from these rival claims of Israelis and Palestinians, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and West Bank in accordance with peace agreements and accords, and has forcibly removed Israeli settlements from disputed lands which have been officially recognized as Palestinian territory. (BBC) This has traumatized and embittered many Orthodox Jews in Israel, who consider these lands theirs by birthright and cite Old Testament evidence to support their claims.
In order to explain the feelings in Israel today of leaders and citizens on Hamas as well as other terrorist organizations , it is necessary to examine the broader issue of Israeli/Arab enmity in the Middle East, for violence between Israelis and Palestinians is just one consequence of this historical enmity, which has triggered four Arab/Israeli wars and a multitude of other violent military confrontations, such as the Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon twenty years ago.
The Palestine conflict with Israel has been perpetuated by Palestinian leaders such as Arafat and his PLO cronies, who have used the billions of dollars in foreign aid intended for the Palestinian people to enrich themselves and their supporters, and to finance their networks of terrorism. Consequently, the Palestinian people are still mired in poverty and despair, which enables their corrupt leaders to foment hatred of Israel and make “the Zionists” the scapegoats for Palestinian suffering and misery.
In terms of what can be done to stop the violence, Former Prime Minister Olmert has discussed the “desirability of having a Palestinian partner” and is examining the potential of engaging in talks with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. “One Israeli analyst suggested they should start in secret while Israel encourages the collapse of the Hamas administration,” (BBC) but covert Israeli efforts to undermine Hamas may simply radicalize Palestinians even more and unleash more violence.
The emergence of democratization in the Palestinian state offers more potential for stopping the chronic violence that has plagued this region than anything Israel might do, for it could end the long era of corrupt government rule established by Arafat and the PLO. Arafat’s government was more intent upon destroying Israel through terrorism than in achieving peaceful relations, and the new Hamas government is led by men who have vowed to destroy Israel.
Consequently, the violence is likely to continue unless true democratization emerges in the Palestinian state and replaces the current system, which is characterized by corruption, and which is controlled by leaders who cynically manipulate the Palestinian people in order to demonize Israel, maintain their power, and pursue their goal of the destruction of Israel.
As Sachedina explains in The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, true democratization based upon Qur’anic principles, the Shari’a, and rule of law can contribute to establishing the basis for mutually respectful and democratic relationships among Palestinians, and between Palestinians, Israelis, and the non-Muslim world. Unlike many Middle East scholars, Sachedina emphasizes the common goal of a just society they all share and subsequently argues that they are in harmony much more than they are in conflict. (Sachedina 56)
Sachedina’s promotion of true democratization in the Palestinian state and throughout the Muslim world reflects his belief that democratic pluralism thrives on the ability of citizens to value each other and respect one other’s dignity as children of God and equal human rights. Despite their different perspectives and applications of forms of democratic pluralism; Muslims, Christians, and Israelis have all demonstrated that democratic pluralism is beneficial for everyone in this troubled region when citizens accept that the individual is created in the image of God and that all religions share membership in a loving relationship with God.
Sachedina condemns the pervasive corruption of Muslim leaders, and notes that Muslims have a moral obligation to reject religious extremism and terrorism, for the intensifying Middle East crisis “arising from the misuse of religion by a vocal minority” is being fueled by terrorist violence in the name of Allah. This perversion of Islamic teachings compels Muslim scholars and institutions of higher learning “to arrest the breakdown and corruption of the political order by rediscovering and promoting a common moral concern for peace with justice, to map the boundaries of the possible in the political landscape of Muslim countries.” (Sachedina 6)
According to Ahmad Moussalli, the author of The Islamic Quest for Democracy, Pluralism, and Human Rights, Islam can be incorporated in the development of democratic modern states in the Middle East such as the Palestinian state, but he acknowledges that the increasing appeal and violence of Islamic fundamentalism in the Palestinian state and other Muslim countries has made a complex political challenge even more complex.
In political terms, Moussalli explains that there are barriers to the development of democracy in Islamic states, for Muslims have long debated the problematic relationships between political priorities, societal priorities, and individual priorities. When religious traditions, international tensions, and globalization are added to the mix, democratization can be problematic in a multitude of ways.
Despite this added complexity and the fact that Israeli academics, government officials, and journalists are doubtful of the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Moussalli considers this perceived incompatibility to be a product of Western misconceptions about Islam. (Moussalli 5-9) Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether the Palestinian people will pursue real democratization and reject the radical agenda of their Hamas leaders, but it is painfully clear that if they continue to support corrupt, religious extremist leaders intent upon destroying Israel, the violence will not only continue, it will escalate.
In conclusion, the current Israeli government’s position regarding ongoing Israeli/Palestinian violence has not changed significantly over the past few months, despite the incapacitation of Ariel Sharon and the establishment of a new leader, Ehud Olmert. Israeli policy continues to be based upon a traditional but covert determination to carry out reprisals against Hamas terrorists who carry out attacks on Israel, and to eliminate Hamas leaders who advocate and support such attacks.
This Israeli policy has been controversial and counterproductive, for it has radicalized many Palestinians, who have responded by electing a Hamas government. Israel’s targeting of Hamas leaders for assassination has been condemned as state-sponsored terrorism by many Palestinians, and presents complex dilemmas for the new Israeli government, which is struggling to deal with the implications of Hamas control over the Palestinian government.
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